FDCPA Class Actions

Posted On: November 24, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases–Tasaranta v. Homecomings Financial: California Federal Court Dismisses Class Action Complaint Holding Allegations Insufficient To Support TILA, RESPA, HOEPA Or FDCPA Claims

Class Action Arising out of Home Loan Transaction and Alleging Violations of Various State and Federal Laws Dismissed, without Opposition from Plaintiffs, because Class Action Complaint Failed to Satisfy Pleading Requirements California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California state court against Homecomings Financial and American Mortgage Network (which apparently was never served) arising out of a home loan they obtained that was secured by real property in Chula Vista, California. Tasaranta v. Homecomings Financial LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d___ (S.D. Cal. September 9, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2.] Specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants violated the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), as well various California-state laws. Id., at 2. The class action prayed for compensatory and punitive damages, and sought “rescission of the contract and loan.” Id. Defense attorneys for Homecomings Financial removed the class action to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, id., at 1., and then filed a motion to dismiss the class action which plaintiffs did not oppose, id., at 1-2. Id. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the class action complaint without prejudice.

Even though the motion to dismiss the class action was unopposed, the district court reviewed each claim for relief on the merits. With respect to the class action’s TILA claim, the federal court found that the statute of limitations had run on the claim, Tasaranta, at 4-5, and that, separately, the complaint failed to adequately plead a “plausibly suggestive” claim “entitling the plaintiff to relief,” Tasaranta, at 4 (citation omitted). With respect to RESPA, the district court ruled that the class action failed to adequately plead the alleged transfer of the servicing contract in order to support a claim against “Servicers” under RESPA, id., at 5, and that the “yield spread premium” (YSP) claim under RESPA failed because YSPs are not per se illegal under RESPA, id., at 5-6. With respect to HOEPA, the class action complaint failed to allege sufficient details about the loan to support a claim that the interest rate fell within the scope of the statute. See id., at 6-7. And with respect to the FDCPA claim, the federal court observed that the class action did not “include sufficient factual allegations to support the conclusion that Defendants violated the FDCPA, such as how, when and to whom Plaintiffs ‘requested validation,’ and how and when each Defendant responded.” Id., at 7. Accordingly, the district court dismissed the class action complaint against Homecomings Financial without prejudice. Id., at 9.

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Posted On: September 22, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Hicks v. Client Services: Florida Federal Court Denies Motion To Decertify Class Action Holding De Minimis Recovery Does Not Defeat Rule 23(b)'s Superiority Requirement

Class Action Alleging Violations of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) Properly Certified as Class Action despite De Minimis Recovery for Class Members Florida Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against Client Services alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); plaintiff moved to certify the litigation as a class action, and the district court agreed that class action treatment was warranted under Rule 23. Hicks v. Client Services, Inc., 257 F.R.D. 699, 700 (S.D.Fla. 2009). Defense attorneys moved to decertify the litigation as a class action, arguing that in light of the statutory cap on damages awardable under FDCPA class actions, the de minimis recovery awaiting class members defeated the “superiority” prong of class certification. Id. Specifically, the FDCPA caps damages in class actions to “the lesser of $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the debt collector.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2)(B). Defendant asserted that its net worth was only $15 million, and that the putative class contained more than 122,000 members: “Thus, should Plaintiff class prevail, the maximum recovery per class member would be $1.24.” Id. (footnote omitted). Plaintiff countered that “courts have not allowed the prospect of de minimis individual recovery to defeat certification of FDCPA classes.” Id. The district court denied the motion, determining that class action treatment was warranted.

The district court explained that, in analyzing the superiority requirement of Rule 23(b)(3), courts have recognized that [c]lass actions are particularly superior for cases where individual recovery would be small, because class actions ‘overcome the problem that small recoveries do not provide the incentive for any individual to bring a solo action prosecuting his or her rights.’” Hicks, at 700 (quoting Amchem Prods. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 617 (1997)). “A class action solves this problem by aggregating the relatively paltry potential recoveries into something worth someone's (usually an attorney's) labor.” Amchem, at 617. The court considered the cases cited by defendants for the proposition that a de minimis recovery may defeat class certification, see id., at 700-01. The court discussed also the cases cited by plaintiffs hold that de minims recovery does not defeat class certification of FDCPA claims. Id., at 701. The federal court observed, then, that “[t]here is authority supporting both Plaintiff's and Defendant's positions.” Id. It concluded, however, that the cases supporting plaintiff’s view were the more persuasive, id. The district court explained at page 701,

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Posted On: May 21, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Lemire v. Wolpoff & Abramson: Connecticut Federal Court Grants Class Action Treatment To FDCPA Class Action Against Law Firm

Class Action Against Law Firm Alleging Violations of Debt Collection Laws Warranted Class Action Treatment over Defense Challenge to Adequacy of Representation based on Claim that Class Action was Filed by “Professional Plaintiff” and over Challenge to Superiority Prong of Rule 23(b)(3) Class Action Certification Test based on Negative Net Worth of Defendant and FDCPA’s 1% Net Worth Cap on Liability Connecticut Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against the law firm of Wolpoff & Abramson alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Lemire v. Wolpoff & Abramson, LLP, 256 F.R.D. 321, 2009 WL 827764, *1 (D.Conn. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action, Wolpoff’s communication with Connecticut consumers violated state law and therefore a per se violation of the FDCPA, id. Wolpoff argued that a violation of Connecticut debt collection law is not a per se violation of the FDCPA. Id. Plaintiff moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, id. The district court granted plaintiff’s motion and granted class action treatment.

After summarizing the well known rules for class action certification under Rule 23, see Lemire, at *2, the court turned to the merits of the motion. Wolpoff conceded that the numerosity test of Rule 23(a)(1) had been met, id., at *3. But as to commonality, Wolpoff argued that each collection letter sent to a Connecticut resident would have to be “analyzed individually to determine whether it contains actionable language” because different letters were sent to consumers who were represented by counsel than those who were unrepresented. Id. The federal court found, however, that the letters were similar in material respects and that the differences go to the merits of the class action claims. Id., at *3-*4. Given the “common content of Wolpoff’s letters” sent directly to consumers, the commonality test had been met. Id., at *4. And the letters to the attorneys were sufficiently similar to warrant class action treatment, and even if different could be addressed by dividing the group into two classes. Id., at *5. And the typicality test was satisfied because Wolpoff “failed to identify any unique ‘claims or defenses,’” id., at *6.

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Posted On: April 23, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Asset Acceptance v. Hanson: California State Court Affirms Dismissal Of FDCPA Class Action Claims Holding Debt Collector Not Obligated To Inform Debtors That Debts Were Time-Barred

As a Matter of First Impression, Credit Card Debtor’s Class Action Cross-Complaint Alleging Violations of California’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act) Properly Dismissed on Demurrer for Failure to Define an Ascertainable Class and because Debt Collector was not Obligated to Disclose to Debtors that Debts Sought to be Collected were Time-Barred California State Court Holds

Plaintiff Asset Acceptance filed a lawsuit against debtor Lilia Hanson to collect on a $1300 credit card debt; the debtor filed a putative class action cross-complaint against Asset alleging that it violated California’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“the Rosenthal Act”), which incorporates the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Asset Acceptance, LLC v. Hanson, (Cal.App., Case No. B208548, April 1, 2009) (unpublished) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The class action claims were premised on the allegation that Asset systematically and fraudulently sought to collect on debts that were time-barred. Id. The central allegation underlying the class action cross-complaint is that Asset purchased credit card debts “for pennies on the dollar and tricks debtors into making payments, which has the legal effect of reviving the debt.” This is because, under California law, “If a debtor acknowledges a debt in writing after the statute of limitations has run, ‘a new obligation is created, for which the original barred debt is said to be “consideration.” The cause of action is on the new obligation, and a new statutory period starts running as on any other written promise.’” Id., at 2 (citations omitted). Asset demurred to the third amended class action cross-complaint; the trial court sustained the demurrer on the ground that the class action sought to represent a class that lacked a “well-defined community of interest.” Id., at 1. In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal affirmed.

The Rosenthal Act “prohibits debt collectors from using threats, physical force, obscene language, annoying telephone calls, false representations, or falsely simulating a legal action.” Asset Acceptance, at 2 (citations omitted). In part, the statute prohibits a debt collector from obtaining “an affirmation from a debtor who has been adjudicated a bankrupt of a consumer debt which has been discharged in such bankruptcy, without clearly and conspicuously disclosing to the debtor, in writing, at the time such affirmation is sought, the fact that the debtor is not legally obligated to make such affirmation,” id. (citation omitted). The appellate court observed, however, that “The Rosenthal Act is silent on whether a debt collector must give a similar warning when attempting to collect a time-barred debt that has not been discharged in bankruptcy.” Id. This was the central issue on appeal, because the class action alleged that Asset failed to disclose to the putative class members that the debts it was seeking to collect were time barred when it contacted them demanding about payment on the credit card debts. Id., at 3. Further, not only was this a matter of first impression under California case law, but federal courts considering the issue under the FDCPA have reached different conclusions. Id., at 2-3.

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Posted On: March 26, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Del Campo v. American Corrective Counseling: California Federal Court Certifies FDCPA Class Action Finding Attack On Practices Used To Collect On Bounced Checks Warranted Class Action Treatment

Class Action Alleging FDCPA Violations Arising from Collection Practices Utilized to Collect from Check Writers of Bounced Checks Satisfied Rule 23 Requirements for Class Action Treatment California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against various defendants, including American Corrective Counseling Services (ACCS), alleging that they “engaged in a pattern of behavior in implementing the District Attorney Bad Check Diversion Program” that violated, inter alia, the California Constitution and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants “operated the Diversion Program unlawfully by using the names of local district attorneys, demanding fees, and using the threat of criminal prosecution to force bad check writers to comply with their payment demands.” Del Campo v. American Corrective Counseling Services, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (N.D. Cal. December 3, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 1 (footnote omitted)]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, various retail merchants would refer bounced checks to the District Attorney, who in turn would decide whether to refer the check writer to the diversion program. If it is referred, then defendants “instruct the merchants not to communicate” with the check writers and send out letters “purporting to be from the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Bad Check Restitution Program or the Sonoma County District Attorney Bad Check Restitution Program” and explaining that they can “avoid criminal prosecution for allegedly violating California Penal Code 476(a) by enrolling in the optional Bad Check Programs, without any admissions of guilt.” Id., at 2-3. The letter would instruct the bad check writers to make new checks out to the Bad Check Program, and included in the total to be paid the amount of the bounced check, a $35 administration fee, and a diversion program fee. Id., at 3. Many check writers tendered less than the total amount listed in the letter, and never intended on participating in the Bad Checks Program and did not participate in the program, id. Defendants sent subsequent letters demanding payment of the balance of the sums owed. The class action followed, alleging inter alia violations of the FDCPA and California’s Unfair Business Practices Act. Id. Plaintiffs’ attorneys moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action; defense attorneys argued against class action treatment. Id., at 2. The district court determined that class action treatment was warranted and therefore granted plaintiffs’ class action certification motion.

With respect to Rule 23(a)’s requirements for class certification, the district court noted that defendants did not contest numerosity or commonality, but argued that plaintiffs’ claims were not typical and that they were not adequate representatives of the class. Del Campo, at 6. The federal court agreed that the numerosity and commonality tests had been met, see id., at 7-9. Turning to the typicality test, the court noted at page 9, “Defendants contend that Plaintiffs have not met the typicality requirement because the collection letters sent by Defendants contained ‘significant differences’ on a county-by-county basis.” Plaintiffs countered that the class action allegations assert that each of the letters “contain representations that: (1) the letter is from the local District Attorney, who has reviewed a criminal complaint made by the recipient of a dishonored check; (2) check writers who do not choose ‘diversion’ face a real risk of prosecution; and (3) to avoid prosecution, the check writer must pay the check, plus enumerated fees, and attend a ‘Financial Accountability’ Class.””Id., at 9. The district court agreed with plaintiffs, and found that the typicality test had been met, id., at 10. Defendants also argued that the named plaintiffs were not adequate representatives of the class and that plaintiffs’ counsel had a conflict of interest in representing the class. Id., at 10. The basis for the attack on the plaintiffs was their dishonesty, as evidenced by the fact that they bounced checks; the district court readily concluded that an element of being in the class could not disqualify someone from serving as the class representative. Id., at 11. And the court rejected the idea that the lobbying efforts of plaintiffs’ counsel created a conflict of interest in representing the class. Id., at 12.

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Posted On: February 18, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Herkert v. MRC Receivables: Illinois Federal Court Amends Class Definitions And Certifies Class Action In FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) Class Action

Class Action Challenging Defendants Debt Collection Practices Warranted Class Action Treatment Illinois Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against MRC Receivables and others alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Illinois Collection Agency Act (ICAA). Herkert v. MRC Receivables Corp., 254 F.R.D. 344, 346 (N.D.Ill. 2008). Defendants are engaged in the business of “purchasing and managing charged-off consumer receivables portfolios.” Id. After defendants filed suit against them to collect on credit card debts, plaintiffs filed their class action lawsuit, id. Specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants “had a policy and practice of violating Section 1692e and 1692f of the FDCPA, and Section 425/9(a)(20) of the ICAA,” id., at 346-47. The gravamen of the class action is that defendants filed lawsuits to collect credit card debts without attaching a signed contract to the complaints, and after the expiration of the 5-year statute of limitations. Id., at 347. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 346. The district court amended the definition of the class and, as amended, granted plaintiffs’ motion for class action treatment.

The motion for class certification proposed three classes, under the FDCPA and one under the ICAA. Heckert, at 347. The district court readily found Rule 23(a)(1)’s numerosity requirement for class actions to be satisfied because defendants “file…thousands of cases each month in Illinois state court.” Id., at 348. The federal court rejected defendants’ claim that they would not be able “to construct an accurate search of their record-keeping system on a searchable, system-wide basis, and that it would thus be impossible to determine the identity of the class members.” Id. However, the court agreed to amend the class definitions “to ensure that the classes are ascertainable based on objectively identifiable criteria, namely, according to the date of the final statement of account as given in the affidavits attached to the state court complaints.” Id. As so amended, the class definition would not require the parties to rely on defendants’ records in order to ascertain class membership, id., at 349.

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Posted On: January 29, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Campuzano-Burgos v. Midland Credit: Third Circuit Reverses FDCPA Class Action Ruling In Favor Of Plaintiffs Holding Dunning Letters Underlying Class Action Did Not Violate FDCPA

As Matter of First Impression, Dunning Letters/Settlement Offer Letters Sent by Debt Collector over Signatures of Corporate Officers who did not Write, Sign or Personally Authorize Letters did not Violate FDCPA because Letters were Plainly Sent on Behalf of Corporation and not Individuals Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against various defendants, including Midland Credit Management, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); the class action complaint asserted that defendants sent “false, misleading, or deceptive collection notices in contravention of §§ 1692e and 1692e(9) of the Act.” Campuzano-Burgos v. Midland Credit Management, Inc., 550 F.3d 294, 296 (3d Cir. 2008). The main question presented by the FDCPA class action, and the question the district court ultimately certified to the Third Circuit, was “whether a senior officer of a collection company violates the Act by signing ‘dunning letters’ sent to debtors.” Id. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability; the district court rejected the defense motion holding that a debt collector violates the FDCPA “by sending debtors settlement offers that bear the name of one of the company's senior executives.” Id. The Third Circuit accepted the certified question and concluded that defendants did not violate the FDCPA; accordingly, it remanded the class action to the district court with instruction to enter judgment in favor of the defendants.

The debt collection letters sent by defendants to collect unpaid debts were “nearly identical in content and form.” Campuzano-Burgos, at 296. The letters were signed by corporate officers of Midland Credit, and accurately reflected their titles and positions with the company, id., at 297. But while the officers were deemed to have authorized the letters, they were not attorneys they did not actually write or sign the letters, and the letters were sent without the officers’ knowledge. Id. The district court concluded that case law “expresse[d] a general concern with debt collectors' practice of falsely implying that someone in a position of real authority [wa]s supervising the collection of [a] debt.” Campuzano-Burgos v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 497 F.Supp.2d 660, 664 (E.D.Pa. 2007). The district court held that the letters violated the FDCPA because “the use of top executives of the company as signatories is likely meant to impress upon debtors the seriousness of the communication and will almost certainly have such an effect on at least some debtors.” 550 F.3d at 298 (quoting 497 F.Supp.2d at 665). Moreover, because the officers “had no ‘actual involvement in the decision to send the letter[s] to a particular debtor ... the letters ... are deceptive and misleading within the meaning of Section 1692e.’” Id. (citation omitted). On appeal, defense attorneys argued that the letters were not deceptive and clearly conveyed that they were sent on behalf of “the company as a whole” rather than the individual officers, id. The Third Circuit agreed.

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Posted On: January 23, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Anchondo v. Anderson: New Mexico Federal Court Denies Motion To Dismiss FDCPA Class Action Holding Class Action Complaint Adequately Alleged Debt Collector Violated State And Federal Laws

Class Action Alleging Violation of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) Survives Defense Motion to Dismiss because Class Action Complaint Alleged Debt Collector Failed to Identify Itself or that it was Attempting to Collect a Debt in its Initial Communication with Plaintiff New Mexico Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against a debt collector alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and New Mexico’s Unfair Practices Act; the class action complaint asserted that. Anchondo v. Anderson, Crenshaw & Associates, L.L.C., 583 F.Supp.2d 1278, 1280 (D. N.M. 2008). According to the allegations underlying the class action, plaintiff purchased a home alarm system which failed to work properly so she stopped paying the monthly service fee; the alarm company retained debt collector Anderson, Crenshaw & Associates to collect the fees owed. Id. Defendant telephoned plaintiff and left a message on her answering machine requesting a return call; the message said the matter was “important,” but did not identify defendant or disclose that it concerned an attempt to collect a debt. Id. Plaintiff filed her class action complaint a few months later, alleging claims for relief under the FDCPA and the UPA, id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action under Rule 12(b)(6) or, alternatively, for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). Id., at 1279-80. The defense argued that the class action failed because the message left on plaintiff’s answering machine was not a “communication” within the meaning of the FDCPA, and because the FDCPA was unconstitutionally vague and unreasonably impeded defendant’s First Amendment right to exercise commercial speech. Id., at 1280. The district court denied the motion.

With respect to defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the district court readily found that the allegations in the class action complaint satisfied the requirements for pleading a violation of the FDCPA because it alleged that defendant (1) “fail[ed] to identify itself” and (2) failed to “state that the voicemail message was left on her answering machine as an attempt to collect a debt.” Anchondo, at 1280 (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(11)). And because the complaint’s allegations are accepted as true for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) motions, the alleged constitutional law defenses “have no bearing as to whether Plaintiff has made sufficient factual allegations to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Id., at 1280-81 (citation omitted).

With respect to the Rule 12(c) motion, the federal court explained that the FDCPA requires debt collectors to disclose their identity in initial communications made for the purpose of collecting a debt, and that the purpose of the communication is to collect a debt. Anchondo, at 1281. Congress enacted the FDCPA to protect consumers against abusive debt collection practices, and because the message defendant left for plaintiff did not include the required disclosures she “would be entitled to relief, pursuant to the FDCPA, if she can prove that the voicemail was a communication regarding a debt.” Id. (citation omitted). The district court concluded that nothing more was required “at this stage of the proceedings,” and that the constitutional challenges were not ripe for adjudication. Id., at 1281-82. Accordingly, it denied the defense motion in its entirety. Id., at 1282.

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Posted On: January 14, 2009 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Seeger v. AFNI: Seventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment Against Debt Collector In FDCPA Class Action Holding Fee Sought To Be Recovered By Debt Collector Were Not Authorized

District Court Properly Granted Plaintiffs’ Summary Judgment Motion in Class Action Under Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) because Fees Debt Collector Sought to Recover and Underlying Class Action Claims were not Proper Seventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against AFNI, a debt collection company, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Wisconsin Consumer Act; the class action complaint asserted that AFNI’s collection practices violated state and federal law because ANFI sought to collect a 15% that was not authorized by either statute or contract. Seeger v. AFNI, Inc., 548 F.3d 1107, 1109-10 (7th Cir. 2008). According to the class action complaint, plaintiffs had entered into contracts with various cellular telephone service providers, and each contract advised customers of the possibility that a debt collection agency may be retained in the event of a payment default, id., at 1109-10; for example, Cingular’s contracts provided that customers would be required to pay “the fees of any collection agency, which may be based on a percentage at a maximum of 33% of the debt, and all costs and expenses, including reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs,” incurred in collecting payments owed, id., at 1110. Additionally, each service contract “contained various provisions making it clear that failure to pay was cause for termination of the contract and that an early termination fee or cancellation fee would be imposed.” Id. Each plaintiff fell behind on payments owed under the cell phone contracts, id., at 1109. AFNI purchased the accounts, and sent debt collection letters to plaintiffs “informing each one that he owed a debt and that Cingular was the original creditor” and that each “was responsible for paying AFNI a collection fee of 15% of the ‘original balance.’” Id., at 1109-10. Plaintiffs filed the class action complaint “alleging that [ANFI’s] attempt to include a separate collection fee in the amount due violated the FDCPA”; an amended class action complaint added party plaintiffs and added also the Wisconsin Consumer Act claim. Id., at 1110. Plaintiffs’ attorneys moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, and the district court agreed that class action treatment was warranted. Id., at 1110. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment; the district court ruled in favor of plaintiffs and ANFI appealed. Id., at 1109. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

In ruling on the summary judgment motions, the district court concluded that AFNI violated both the FDCPA and Wisconsin state law “because neither AFNI's contracts with its customers nor Wisconsin law authorized it to charge the type of collection fee it was using.” Seeger, at 1109. Specifically, the district court ruled that ANFI “violated the FDCPA because neither the contracts nor Wisconsin law permitted the owner of a debt to impose a separate fee for collection, if the fee was for the purpose of reimbursing the owner itself as opposed to a third-party debt collector.” Id., at 1110. Defense attorneys first argued that Wisconsin law permits debt collectors to charge “incidental or consequential damages” for customer breaches of the cell phone service contracts, and by extension that the 15% fee it sought to charge plaintiffs “may be collected by an entity that purchases the contract for collection purposes.” Id., at 1111. The Seventh Circuit disagreed. The Court recognized that all states “permits recovery of losses that are the natural and probable result of the breach of a contract and that were within the reasonable contemplation of the parties” and that “[t]his rule applies to service contracts like the plaintiffs' cell phone contracts,” id. (citations omitted), but it found ANFI’s reliance on this general proposition to be insufficient. Rather, to recover the 15% fee it sought to impose, ANFI “must show that this rule permits a third-party purchaser of an account to recover its internal costs to recover the debt in this manner, and, if so, that the 15% fee it charged to the plaintiffs reflected AFNI's actual costs.” Id. The defense argument failed, the Circuit Court concluded, because (1) “Neither a law expressly permitting a collection fee on behalf of a person in the position of a seller of cellular telephone services nor an agreement between the class members and their cellular providers exists here”; and (2) ANFI failed to establish that the fee it sought to charge “can properly be characterized as incidental or consequential damages resulting from the plaintiffs' breach of their cellular phone contracts with Cingular.” Id., at 1112.

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Posted On: December 16, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Quiroz v. Revenue Production Management: Illinois Federal Court Certifies Class Action Holding Requirements For Certification Of Rule 23(b)(3) Class Action Had Been Met

FDCPA Class Action Complaint Warranted Class Action Treatment because Plaintiff Satisfied Requirements for Rule 23(b)(3) Class Illinois Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against Revenue Production Management, Inc., a debt collection agency, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); the class action complaint asserted “that Defendant had a policy and practice of violating Section 1692e of the FDCPA by: (1) sending [debt collection letters] after the expiration of the 30-day validation period outlined in the initial communication; (2) informing the consumer that the debt must be disputed in writing after expiration of the 30-day validation period outlined in the initial communication; and (3) informing the consumer that a dispute must be made within 30 days of the initial communication, after the expiration of the 30-day validation period outlined in the initial communication.” Quiroz v. Revenue Production Management, Inc., 252 F.R.D. 438, 440 (N.D. Ill. 2008). Plaintiff’s lawyers filed a motion with the district court to certify the litigation as a class action. Id. The district court concluded that class action treatment was warranted and granted plaintiff’s motion.

Plaintiff incurred debts in connection with medical treatment he received, but “[he] did not pay the debt because he believed it was covered by his employer's workers' compensation insurance.” Quiroz, at 440. After plaintiff defaulted on the obligation, it was assigned to defendant who sent plaintiff an initial debt collection letter on April 17, 2007. Id. It was not until June 6, 2007, however, that defendant sent a letter to plaintiff advising him that “[i]f you dispute the validity of this debt then you must notify us in writing within 30 (thirty) days of our initial notice to you.” Id. Plaintiff’s class action certification motion asserted that a Rule 23(b)(3) class action should be certified, id., at 440-41.

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Posted On: December 9, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Gaisser v. Portfolio Recovery Associates: Florida Federal Court Grants Motion To Dismiss Certain Class Action Claims But Denies Motion To Dismiss FDCPA Class Action

Motion to Dismiss FDCPA Class Action Claim Premised on Filing Untimely Debt Collection Lawsuits Fails but Motion to Dismiss State Law Class Action Claims and to Dismiss FDCPA Class Action Claim based on Attorney Fees Sought in Debt Collection Lawsuits were Meritorious Florida Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against Portfolio Recovery Associates (PRA) and certain individuals (PRA’s lawyers) alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Florida’s Consumer Collections Practices Act (FCCPA); the class action complaint asserted that in violation of state and federal law, defendants engaged in a pattern and practice of filing lawsuits to collect debts after the statute of limitations had expired for doing so, and that defendants sought a standard amount of attorney fees without supporting documentation and without actually having incurred the stated amount in attorney fees. Gaisser v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, 571 F.Supp.2d 1273, 1274-75 (S.D. Fla. 2008). According to the class action, “Defendants’ practice of attempting to collect on debts after expiration of the applicable statute of limitations and Defendants’ practice regarding attorney’s fees runs afoul of the FDCPA.” Id., at 1275. More specifically, the class action complaint alleged that “Defendants used false or misleading representations to collect or attempt to collect a debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e,” and “used unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect a debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692f.” Id. The class action further alleged that defendants’ conduct violated Florida state law. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the first amended class action complaint. Id., at 1274. The district court granted the motion in part and denied the motion in part.

Plaintiff incurred credit card debts but was unable to keep up with the required payments. Gaisser, at 1274. The debt was assigned to PRA, who retained counsel to file suit against plaintiff to collect on the debt. Id. The first issue the district court addressed was whether New Hampshire’s three-year statute of limitations applied or Florida’s five-year statute of limitations applied to the debt collection lawsuits filed by defendants. Id., at 1275-76. The Court concluded that New Hampshire law applied, id., at 1276-77, and that defense attorneys failed to establish that the lawsuit – filed against plaintiff four years after the commencement of the statute of limitations – was filed timely, id., at 1277-78. But the district court granted the defense motion to dismiss the class action claims premised on the lawyer’s attorney fees, concluding that the lawyer verified only what a “reasonable fee” would be for the services rendered, not that the amount sought represented his “actual fee.” Id., at 1278. Because defendants did not represent the amount of attorney fees requested was a “sum certain,” and because defendants invited the court to determine the “reasonable fee” to be awarded, the class action claims based on the attorney fee requests failed. Id., at 1277-78.

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Posted On: November 18, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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Class Action Defense Cases--Stewart v. Cheek & Zeehandelar: Ohio Federal Court Strikes Rule 68 Offer Of Judgment In FDCPA Class Action Holding Rule 68 Offer To Settle Individual Claims After Class Action Certification Motion Filed Cannot Moot Class Claims

Class Action Claims not Rendered Moot by Rule 68 Offer of Judgment to Settle Individual Claims of Named Plaintiffs so long as Plaintiffs have not Delayed in Seeking Class Action Treatment of Litigation Ohio Federal Holds

Two class action lawsuits were filed against the law firm of Cheek & Zeehandelar, a consumer debt collection firm, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA); the class action complaints alleged that defendant “engages in misleading and deceptive debt-collection practices” and that it “uniformly fails to properly investigate whether debtor funds are lawfully subject to attachment, prior to seeking and obtaining orders of attachment. Stewart v. Cheek & Zeehandelar, LLP, 252 F.R.D. 384, 384-85 (S.D. Ohio 2008). The class actions were consolidated, and the district court ordered that plaintiffs file their motion for class action certification by February 15, 2008. Id., at 385. Prior to February 15, defendant served a Rule 68 offer of judgment on plaintiffs, which offered to compensate them for their individual claims only; the Rule 68 offer did not offer to settle the claims of the putative class. Id. Plaintiffs moved to strike the offer of judgment and, on February 15, 2008, filed their motion for certification of the litigation as a class action. Id. The district court granted plaintiffs’ motion to strike the offer of judgment.

The district court began its analysis by noting that “[t]he purpose of Rule 68 ‘is to encourage settlement and avoid litigation.’” Stewart, at 385 (quoting Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1, 5 (1985)). Rule 23 class actions, by contrast, serves to vindicate important constitutional and statutory rights by permitting individually small damage claims to be grouped together so that the amount of money involved is worth the fight. Id. Or as the Supreme Court put it, “Where it is not economically feasible to obtain relief within the traditional framework of a multiplicity of small individual suits for damages, aggrieved persons may be without any effective redress unless they may employ the class-action device.” Deposit Guar. Nat'l Bank v. Roper, 445 U.S. 326, 339 (1980). The district court observed at page 385, “The great weight of federal authority holds that a Rule 68 offer of judgment cannot moot the named plaintiffs' claims after a motion for class certification has been filed.” (Citations omitted.) To hold otherwise would permit defendants to “unilaterally control whether the district court ever heard the certification motion,” id., at 385-86 Moreover, “Although courts are somewhat more divided about the effect of a Rule 68 offer before a class-certification motion has been filed, most have endorsed the view that the settlement offer will not moot the named plaintiffs' claims so long as the plaintiffs have not been dilatory in bringing their certification motion.: Id., at 386 (citations omitted). After summarizing the reasons behind the majority view, the district court adopted that rule and held, further, that plaintiffs had not been dilatory in seeking class action certification. Id., at 386-87. Accordingly, the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion to strike the Rule 68 offer of judgment, id., at 387.

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Posted On: October 1, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Barany-Snyder v. Weiner: Sixth Circuit Affirms Judgment On The Pleadings on FDCPA Class Action Holding Attachment Of Entire Contract To Debt Collection Complaint Was Not An Effort To Enforce Each Term In Contract

Class Action Complaint Failed to Adequately Allege Violations of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) because Mere Attachment of Entire Contract with Unenforceable Attorney Fee Clause to Debt Collection Complaint Underlying Class Action was not an Attempt to Collect Attorney Fees where Debt Collection Complaint did not Pray for Such Fees Sixth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action complaint in Ohio federal court against two debt collection attorneys and the law firm where they worked, Keith D. Weiner & Associates; defendants had filed a lawsuit against plaintiff in Ohio state court seeking to recover $8,146.53, plus interest at the rate of 16% per annum and costs alleged owed a college under a revolving credit agreement that contained the following attorney fees clause: “I/We understand that upon default of any, or all of the terms and conditions of this credit agreement and upon proper service of a NOTICE OF DEFAULT by the College, all signers immediately become, at the option of the college, liable for attorney fees and/or actual or reasonable collection costs which may be added to the Total Amount Due.” Barany-Snyder v. Weiner, 539 F.3d 327, 330 (6th Cir. 2008). The collection action did not seek attorney's fees, and the court entered in favor of the college did not award attorney fees because the college did not seek such an award. Id., at 331. Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection, and the college’s debt ultimately was discharged. Id. Plaintiff’s class action complaint alleged that defendants violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act; the class action alleged that Ohio law “prohibits creditors from recovering attorney's fees in connection with the collection of a consumer debt,” and that defendants violated state and federal law by attaching the college’s credit agreement with the attorney fees clause to the state court complaint. Id. Defense attorneys moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the class action failed to state a claim; the district court granted the motion and plaintiff appealed. Id. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Plaintiff’s theory of the case was that “all signers immediately become, at the option of the college, liable for attorney fees and/or actual or reasonable collection costs” and that this violated the FDCPA’s prohibition against making false, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with the collection of a debt. Barany-Snyder, at 332. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, holding that because the credit agreement was attached in its entirety, and because the attorney fee clause was not “drawn to the consumer's attention,” even the “least sophisticated debtor” would not have interpreted the debt collection lawsuit as one seeking attorney fees. Id., at 334-35. The Circuit Court explained at page 335, “Indeed, as the district court noted, adopting [plaintiff’s] position leads to the untenable conclusion that the attachment of a contract to a complaint or dunning letter is equivalent to a present threat to exercise every provision of that contract.” Additionally, “while attachment of an affidavit asserting a possible entitlement to attorney's fees might have been misleading and deceptive to the least sophisticated consumer, this conduct simply did not amount to a false representation in violation of § 1692e(2).” Id., at 335 (citation omitted). Accordingly, defendants’ debt collection action failed to state a claim under § 1692e(2). Id., at 335-36. Finally, the Circuit Court further affirmed that the debt collection action did not attempt to collect a debt in excess of the amount lawfully owed, so defendants did not violate § 1692f(1) as alleged in the class action complaint. Id., at 336. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment dismissing the class action complaint, id.

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Posted On: August 8, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Yack v. Washington Mutual: California Federal Court Dismisses Class Action Complaint Because Plaintiffs Lacked Standing To Prosecute Class Action Claims

Plaintiffs Lacked Standing to Prosecute Class Action because Underlying Events Occurred Prior to Filing of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Proceeding by Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs Failed to Disclose Existence of Class Action Claims in Bankruptcy California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action against Washington Mutual and other defendants alleging inter alia violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants improperly froze plaintiffs’ checking account funds. Yack v. Washington Mutual Inc., 389 B.R. 91, 93 (N.D. Cal. 2008). Plaintiffs each had medical problems, and used a credit card to pay for some of their medical bills, id. When plaintiffs fell behind on their payments, their credit card company hired a debt collector, defendant Sunlan, which obtained a $10,000 judgment against them and then levied on their Washington Mutual bank account. Id., at 93-94. Washington Mutual complied with the levy, forwarding funds from plaintiffs’ account to the County Sheriff and withdrawing a legal processing fee, id., at 94. Plaintiffs alleged that the funds were exempt from levy because they social security and pension benefits; a California Superior Court agreed and ordered the funds released, id. Several months later, plaintiffs filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding, id., at 95. Plaintiffs thereafter filed their putative class action complaint alleging that defendants levied on their bank account despite knowing that the funds were exempt from attachment. Id., at 94. Defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, id. The district court agreed and dismissed the class action.

The thrust of the defendants’ challenge to the class action complaint was that plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute the claims because they “failed to list the claims in their bankruptcy proceeding, and because they are judicially estopped from pursuing claims held by the bankruptcy trustee.” Yack, at 95. Defense attorneys argued that plaintiffs filed their Chapter 7 proceeding many months after the events underlying the putative class action complaint, and that they did not disclose in that proceeding the claims they now sought to prosecute: “in doing so, plaintiffs effectively concealed from the bankruptcy their supposed claims against defendants.” Id. According to the district court, plaintiffs conceded “that they lack standing to assert those claims in federal court.” Id. The court found that plaintiffs’ efforts to re-open the bankruptcy and obtain abandonment from the trustee of the claims underlying the class action complaint failed, as the bankruptcy court affirmatively denied them that relief. Id., at 96. Accordingly, plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute the class action, id. The federal court also agreed with defendants’ alternative argument, that plaintiffs were barred from prosecuting the class action claims by the doctrine of judicial estoppel. See id., at 96-97. Accordingly, the court dismissed with prejudice the class action complaint against defendants. Id., at 97.

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Posted On: July 9, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases--Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial: Ninth Circuit Vacates Fee Awarded FDCPA Class Action Plaintiff Lawyers Due To District Court's Failure To Explain Hourly Rate Utilized And Failure To Use Lodestar To Award Fees-On-Fees

Following Class Action Settlement Providing for Award of Reasonable Attorney Fees to Plaintiff’s Lawyers in FDCPA Class Action, District Court Failed to Explain Why $200 per hour was Reasonable for the Relevant Community and Failed to Determine Lodestar for Fees-on-Fees Request, thus Requiring that Fee Award be Vacated and Matter Remanded for Further Proceedings Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff debtor filed a putative class action against Bridgeport Financial, a debt collector, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); the class action complaint alleged that defendant “misrepresented the rights of consumers in its initial collection letter by requiring her to dispute her debt in writing.” Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, Inc., ___F.3d ___ (9th Cir. April 22, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 4242-43]. The district court granted class action certification of a statewide class, and the parties entered into a Class Action Settlement Agreement that the district court ultimately approved. Id., at 4243. The Ninth Circuit opinion identifies but a single benefit provided by the class action settlement for the 7,000 class members – a cy pres award of $341.50; the agreement provided that the named plaintiff receive $1,000 in actual and statutory damages. Id. The Class Action Settlement Agreement provided further that plaintiffs’ three law firms could file a motion for attorney fees and costs if the parties could not agree on the amount of such an award, id. Plaintiff’s lawyers sought almost $170,000 in attorney fees and costs, reflecting hourly rates ranging from $425 to $500 for the attorneys, and $115 to $200 for law clerks, id., at 4243-44. The district court found the hours spent by plaintiff’s lawyers to be reasonable, but reduced the reasonable hourly rate to $200 for all attorneys and awarded a flat fee of $500 for the motion seeking fees and costs, which the court found to be “virtually identical to the materials these attorneys have submitted in other cases.” Id., at 4245-46. In the end, the district court awarded approximately $77,000 in fees and costs, id., at 4246. The lawyers appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

The Circuit Court noted that under the terms of the Class Action Settlement Agreement defendant “agreed to pay reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees and costs.” Camacho, at 4247. The Court stated that the FDCPA “makes an award of fees mandatory.” Id. The Ninth Circuit explained that the district court’s order would be reversed only for clear error, id., at 4246 (citation omitted), and that and that district courts are required to use the “lodestar” method for determining the amount of attorney fees to be awarded, id, at 4247 (citations omitted). The lodestar takes the reasonable hourly rate and multiplies it by the reasonable number of hours incurred by counsel, id.; because the district court found that the hours spent by plaintiff’s lawyers were reasonable, the only issue was whether the district abused its discretion in reducing the hourly rate for plaintiff’s lawyers to $200 per hour. Id., at 4247-48.

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Posted On: March 5, 2008 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases-Jacobson v. Healthcare Financial: Second Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment In Favor Of Defense In FDCPA Class Action And Vacates Award Of Attorney Fees And Costs Against Class Action Plaintiff

As Matter of First Impression, FDCPA Permits Consumers to Notify Debt Collectors of Dispute Within 30 Days of Receiving Debt Collectors’ Letter Necessitating Reversal of Summary Judgment in Favor of Defense in FDCPA Class Action Second Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative nationwide class action complaint against Healthcare Financial Services (HFS), a “debt collector” within the meaning of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), alleging that a debt collection letter he received from HFS violated the FDCPA by failing to advise debtors of their right to dispute the validity of the debt. Jacobson v. Healthcare Fin. Servs., Inc., 516 F.3d 85, 2008 WL 383060, *1 (2d Cir. 2008). The class action complaint did not allege that plaintiff suffered any actual loss, limiting recover to statutory damages and attorney fees. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action, or in alternative sought summary judgment, on the ground that the debt collection letter did not violate the FDCPA; the defense also sought attorney fees from plaintiff, arguing that he had filed the class action “in bad faith and for the purpose of harassment,” see 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). Id. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of HFS and awarded HFS attorney fees and costs, id. The Second Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The FDCPA provision at issue provides that a debtor has the right to dispute a debt and seek verification of the validity of the debt by notifying the debt collector of the right to dispute the debt. Jacobson, at *2. The Second Circuit recognized that it must view the issue from the perspective of the “least sophisticated consumer,” see id., at *3 (citing Clomon v. Jackson, 988 F.2d 1314, 1318 (2d Cir. 1993)), but observed also that “the objective test we apply [also] protects debt collectors from unreasonable constructions of their communications,” that the Second Circuit has “carefully preserved the concept of reasonableness,” and that “the FDCPA does not aid plaintiffs whose claims are based on ‘bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection notices.’” Id. (citations omitted). So viewed, the Circuit Court held that the letter sent by HFS clearly advised debtors of their right to dispute the validity of the alleged debt.

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Posted On: October 26, 2007 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases-Evory v. RJM Acquisitions: Seventh Circuit Consolidates Class Action And Individual Lawsuits To Resolve Nine Difficult FDCPA Questions With Direct Impact On FDCPA Class Actions

Using Consolidated Individual and Class Action Lawsuits Alleging Various Violations of the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Seventh Circuit Resolves Nine Issues of Recurring Concern Including Debt Collection Communications with Lawyers for Consumers

The Seventh Circuit consolidated for decision four class action and individual lawsuits brought under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) “that present nine questions…, several of which have engendered considerable controversy at the circuit level and even some circuit splits.” Evory v. RJM Acquisitions Funding LLC, ___ F.3d ___ [Slip Opn., at 3] (7th Cir. October 23, 2007). Two of the consolidated cases were filed as putative class action lawsuits, but the issues addressed by the Seventh Circuit frequently arise in FDCPA class action litigation. The nine questions are: (1) the FDCPA notice requirements apply if the consumer is represented by legal counsel; (2) whether the FDCPA prohibition against “harassing, deceptive, and unfair practices in debt collection” applies to communications with a debtor’s lawyer and, if so, (3) whether the applicable standard for determining if such a violation occurred is the same if made to a lawyer as if made to the debtor; (4) whether the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from including settlement offers in a debt collection letter and, if not per se unlawful, (5) whether it matters if the offer is made to a lawyer rather than directly to a debtor; (6) whether a safe harbor exists for debt collectors accused of violating § 1692e based on settlement offers and, if so, (7) the evidence required to establish that a settlement offer violates that statute; and finally, (8) “[w]hether the determination that a representation is or is not false, deceptive, or misleading under section 1692 is always to be treated as a matter of law,” and, if not, (9) whether the court may nonetheless dismiss a claim under § 1692e “on the ground that the challenged representation was, as a matter of law, not false or misleading.” Id., at 3-4.

The Seventh Circuit held as follows. First, that the notice requirements apply regardless of whether the debtor is represented by counsel because it would be “odd if the fact that a consumer was represented excused the debt collector from having to convey to the consumer the information to which the statute entitles him.” Evory, at 6. Second, that while lawyers are “less likely to be deceived,” the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using “any unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt” and there is no reason to “immuniz[e] practices forbidden by the statute when they are directed against a consumer’s lawyer.” Id., at 7. However, the Circuit Court held that the standard generally applicable for determining violations of the FDCPA - viz., whether the representation would mislead an “unsophisticated consumer” - does not apply to communications with lawyers, id., at 7-8; rather, the Seventh Circuit held “that a representation by a debt collector that would be unlikely to deceive a competent lawyer, even if he is not a specialist in consumer debt law, should not be actionable,” id., at 9. But this is not true for statements that are false or misleading, because “[a] false claim of fact…may be as difficult for a lawyer to see through as a consumer.” Id., at 9. Representations that are false or misleading - that is, where the lawyer “might be unable to discover the falsity of the representation without an investigation that he might be unable, depending on his client’s resources, to undertake” - are actionable irrespective of whether they are made to the debtor or to the debtor’s counsel. Id., at 9-10.

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Posted On: October 3, 2007 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases-Guevarra v. Progressive Financial: California Federal Court Holds Congress Must Address "Ethically Questionable" Conduct of Plaintiff's Counsel In Multiplying Class Action Litigation

Class Action Plaintiff Lawyer’s Collusion with Plaintiff’s Counsel in Separate Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) Class Action Against Same Defendant is not Condoned but Remedy lies with Congress not with Disciplinary Bodies California Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against a debt collection agency and one of its employees alleging that letters sent to debtors violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and California’s state law equivalent, the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act). Guevarra v. Progressive Fin. Servs., Inc., 497 F.Supp.2d 1090, 1090-91 (N.D. Cal. 2007). The class action complaint originally sought “class-wide relief on behalf of all debtors who received the letter at issue here”; however, plaintiff’s counsel subsequently amended the class action allegations to seek relief solely on behalf of debtors of a single creditor. IKEA. Id., at 1091. Plaintiff’s counsel then asked the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, and admitted at oral argument that counsel was “coordinating with plaintiff’s counsel in a separate [class action] pending in the Central District of California concerning the same letter as the one at issue here.” Id. As the district court explained at page 1091, “Apparently, plaintiff’s counsel agreed with counsel in the [other class action] to divide up the class between the IDEA and non-IKEA creditors.” The district court refused to certify the litigation as a class action and issued an Order to Show Cause why plaintiff’s counsel should not be referred to the State Bar for disciplinary action. Id.

The district court denied the class certification motion “citing plaintiff's arbitrary distinction between IKEA and non-IKEA creditors and concluding that plaintiff's proposed definition is not ‘superior’ to other means available under FRCP 23(b)(3).” Guevarra, at 1091. The federal court explained at page 1091, “Because plaintiff's counsel appeared to have divided up the class in order to maximize attorney fees without significant benefit to their clients, the court ordered plaintiff's counsel to show cause why the court should not refer this matter to the State Bar of California and the Northern District's Standing Committee on Professional Conduct” (citations omitted). The court also concluded that the case relied upon by plaintiff’s counsel, Mace v. Van Ru Credit Corp., 109 F.3d 338 (7th Cir.1997), was in applicable because the Mace court merely refused to impose on counsel a duty to bring a class action “on behalf of the broadest possible class”; “Mace does not, however, condone post-suit collusion between counsel in separate actions in order to cut a class in two.” Id., at 1091.

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Posted On: August 23, 2007 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Cases–Gonzales v. Arrow Financial: California Federal Court Holds Debt Collection Letter Violated FDCPA And California Rosenthal Act And Denies Defense Motion To Decertify Class Action

Federal Court Holds Least Sophisticated Debtor would be Misled by Language in Debt Collection Letter thus Entitling Plaintiff in FDCPA Class Action to Summary Judgment and Finds Fact Plaintiff was not Misled Irrelevant to its Decision or to Defense Motion to Decertify Class Action

Plaintiff filed a class action in California federal court against Arrow Financial Services alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and its state-law equivalent, California’s Rosenthal Act, in that debt collection letters sent by defendant failed to comply with the applicable laws. Gonzales v. Arrow Fin. Servs. LLC, 489 F.Supp.2d 1140, 1143 (S.D. Cal. 2007). The class action complaint was premised on the following language in defendant’s “form collection letters”: “Upon receipt of the settlement amount and clearance of funds, and if we are reporting the account, the appropriate credit bureaus will be notified that this account has been settled.” Id. Plaintiff alleged this violated the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act because the debt underlying defendant’s collection effort had been charged off more than 7 years ago and “a credit bureau cannot report a debt charged off more than 7 years previously,” id. An unsophisticated consumer thus may be misled by the form letter into believing that “payment or nonpayment of the claimed debt may impact the consumer's credit reporting, when that is not true.” Id., at 1143-44. After the district court certified the lawsuit as a class action, defense and plaintiff attorneys filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and defense attorneys moved to decertify the class, id., at 1144. The district court denied both defense motions, and granted partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff.

After summarizing the FDCPA and the “least sophisticated debtor” standard applied in the Ninth Circuit, Arrow, at 1146, a determination made by the court, not a jury, measured by an “objective standard,” id., and after setting forth the relevant section of the Rosenthal Act, id. (quoting Cal. Civil Code, § 1788.13(f)), the district court turned to the defense motion for summary judgment. Defense attorneys argued that the debt collection letters did not violate the FDCPA or the Rosenthal Act because the letters are not false or misleading – the letters did not “illegally threaten[] any action” or mislead or deceive anyone, and “Arrow does not have a policy to report debts such as plaintiff's debts to the credit bureaus and in no way seeks to use credit reporting as a means to illegally collect debts.” Id., at 1147. The defense also relied on plaintiff’s deposition testimony that (1) he knew he did not have to pay the debt and that Arrow would not report such a failure to credit bureaus, and (2) he was not confused by the letter he received from Arrow, id. The federal court noted that it had already found the letters to be misleading or deceptive because “without any explanation detailing what debts are likely to be reported or even if the subject debt is one that is reportable, ‘the least sophisticated debtor could likely believe his [or her] debt is reportable just because the letters indicate the credit bureaus will be notified’” and that even though the letters did not expressly threaten to contact credit bureaus they implied that “the status of the debt may have already been or may, at some later date, be submitted to the credit bureaus” and that such conduct “is actionable under the Act.” Id., at 1148 n.1.

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Posted On: August 1, 2007 by Michael J. Hassen Email This Post

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FDCPA Class Action Defense Case-Griffith v. Javitch: Ohio Federal Court Holds Pre-Certification Notice To Putative Class Of Dismissal Of Class Action Not Required Because No Evidence Of Reliance Or Prejudice

Dismissal of Class Action Alleging Violations of Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) did not Warrant Notice to Absent Members of Putative Class because no Evidence of Reasonable Reliance on Prosecution of Class Action Ohio Federal Court Holds

Plaintiff/debtor filed a putative class action against attorneys for a creditor alleging that the law firm’s collection efforts violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Defense attorneys successfully moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claims in her class action complaint on the ground that she lacked standing to prosecute claims that now belonged to the bankruptcy trustee, and the federal court rejected plaintiff’s effort to bar the bankruptcy trustee from settling with the defense. Thereafter, the bankruptcy trustee “acting in good faith on behalf of the estate's creditors, negotiated a settlement with Defendants”; however, the district court agreed with plaintiff/debtor that “notice of the involuntary dismissal should be given to the putative class members, because some risk existed that those class members would be prejudiced by the expiration of the statute of limitations later this year.” Griffith v. Javitch, Block & Rathbone, LLP, 241 F.R.D. 600, 601 (S.D. Ohio 2007). Plaintiff filed her proposed notices and requested that defendant be ordered to pay for the notice; defense attorneys moved the court to reconsider its order requiring notice to putative class members, id. The court granted the defense motion, holding that notice need not be provided to putative class members.

Preliminarily, the federal court found that the proposed notices prepared by plaintiff’s counsel were “clearly inadequate” and that they “simply invite contact with Plaintiff's counsel.” Griffith, at 601. The court further stated that it would not order defendant to pay the costs of the notice, noting that as a general rule in class actions the plaintiff is responsible for the costs associated with notices to the class, especially when the court has not yet ruled on the merits of any claim alleged in the class action complaint id.

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